Washington Redskins: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 11

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 09: Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins stiff arms linebacker Connor Barwin #98 of the Philadelphia Eagles in the third quarter at FedExField on September 9, 2013 in Landover, Maryland. The Philadelphia Eagles won, 33-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Since the Washington Redskins let a 13-point lead slip against the Minnesota Vikings, the focus has been on whether or not they can repeat 2012's turnaround from 3-6 to the playoffs.

The common consensus is that producing another winning run will be tough to do. The Washington Post's Mark Maske points to the strength of the schedule as a reason for caution:

The six teams left on the Redskins’ schedule — they play the New York Giants twice — have a combined record this season of 30-26 , a winning percentage of .536. Their seven-game winning streak to end the regular season last year was achieved against five opponents that had a winning percentage of .478 at this point last season and .450 at the finish.

The Redskins still have the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, the defending NFC champions, left to play. But they do have four games remaining against NFC East opponents, beginning with Sunday’s contest at Philadelphia. Last season’s winning streak included five victories over division foes and started with consecutive triumphs over the Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and Giants.

As Maske points out, a road win over a division rival is the next vital step for Washington. Getting a win against NFC East opposition is crucial if the Redskins have any chance of still making the postseason.

NFC East Standings after Week 10
Dallas Cowboys5-53-0
Philadelphia Eagles5-52-2
New York Giants3-61-2
Washington Redskins3-60-2
via NFL.com

As the second column of this table indicates, the Dallas Cowboys remain in the strongest position due to their flawless record in the division.

Of course, a week off for the Cowboys gives every other member of the NFC East a chance to redress the balance. After Washington's trip to Philadelphia, the New York Giants will host a Green Bay Packers team in free fall thanks to major issues at quarterback.

Fortunately, a clean bill of health can give Washington a measure of confidence heading into Week 11.


Injury News

The only injury news for Washington at the moment is the end of fifth-round pick Chris Thompson's rookie season. He has landed on IR and will undergo shoulder surgery.

Thompson had failed to make an impact as a return man and was not given the chance to show his skills as a scat back from option looks.

While the Redskins currently don't have injuries along their starting fronts, the Eagles are not so fortunate. Two defensive players were hurt in Week 10, according to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Kendricks would be a big loss, as he was a key part of the Eagles defense that stymied Washington's offense during much of Philly's Week 1, 33-27 win.

He led the Eagles with 10 total tackles in that game, including six solo stops. Kendricks is one of the few members of Philadelphia's front seven with the speed to corral dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III and gain quick penetration against the Redskins' vaunted zone-running game.

The other key development for the Eagles concerns their ongoing situation at quarterback. According to NFL.com's Dan Hanzus, veteran Michael Vick is unlikely to make his return to the starting lineup.

That means Nick Foles will continue under center. He struggled mightily in two starts against Washington in 2012, throwing three interceptions and suffering nine sacks.

Washington's defense put Nick Foles under heavy pressure last season.
Washington's defense put Nick Foles under heavy pressure last season.

But Foles has certainly been in more prolific form this season. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes in the last two games, both victories.

That is bad news for a Washington secondary that suffered through another rough week.


What Must Improve

Foles has thrown for 634 yards during the last two weeks, and now he gets the chance to attack Washington's 26th-ranked pass defense.

There was brief hope for improvement from the secondary when defensive backs were using press techniques to challenge receivers on the outside.

Yet inexplicably, that tactic was abandoned against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10. Instead, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had his cornerbacks playing off and giving a significant cushion of space to Vikings wide receivers.

That will be a dangerous tactic to employ against Philly duo DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. Both have been tormenting defenses in their last two games.

Cooper has emerged as Foles' favorite target, tallying five touchdown catches and 241 yards in consecutive starts. The Redskins have to be daring enough to put pressure on receivers like Cooper at the line.

Of course, applying pressure to Foles will also go a long way to slowing down the Eagles passing game. That puts the onus on a pass rush that needs to do better.

Despite boasting some promising talent, Washington's defensive front has not been able to create heavy and sustained pressure. The Washington Times' Brian McNally pinpoints that as a key reason behind the team's struggle maintaining leads like the one they had in Minnesota:

Some of that falls on Washington outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo. Orakpo has one sack over the last five games. Kerrigan has 1.5 sacks during that stretch. And while the pass rush goes way beyond just two players, that’s also a huge part of their role. Without pressure on opposing quarterbacks in the second half of games, holding onto leads becomes a more difficult proposition. The Redskins managed to do so just barely against San Diego, but lost to Denver and Minnesota. They led by double digits in each game.

Haslett has to find ways to generate some heat on Foles, who is largely a stationary figure in the pocket and can be rattled by a consistent rush.

On offense, head coach Mike Shanahan might be wise to opt for a ball-control approach, given the damage the schemes that his opposite number Chip Kelly did to the Redskins in Week 1.

Mike Shanahan may decide to keep the ball away from Chip Kelly's offense.
Mike Shanahan may decide to keep the ball away from Chip Kelly's offense.

If Shanahan does want to control the clock, he will have to keep the ball on the ground. That means committing to and staying with the run.

The latter is something offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has not always done this season. He certainly could be accused of going away from the run a little too early against the Vikings.

That is part of a trend that CSN Washington's Rich Tandler notes might have hindered the Redskins when they have had a lead in the second half of games:

Should Kyle Shanahan run the ball more? When you’re 3-6 you have to look at everything and if you are among the best in the league in something (they led the NFL in yards/rushing attempt), you should consider doing more of that and less of options that aren’t working so well (they are 21st in the league in passer rating). And when you have double-digit leads in the second halves of three consecutive games and you blow all three leads and lost two of the games perhaps it would have been better to consume some of the clock with a few more running plays here and there.

Regardless of the team's struggles on defense and special teams, something Tandler goes on to highlight, Washington's coaches have not made the best use of the team's ability to run the ball.

While the offensive line was atrocious in pass protection against the Vikings, they had little problems knocking open huge holes in the running game.

The front five wasn't as successful in that area against the Eagles in Week 1. The Redskins were held to just 74 rushing yards.

A lot of that was due to how Philadelphia committed to stopping the rush, particularly keying on workhorse back Alfred Morris.

But the Eagles won't be able to focus as many of their resources on Morris this time. Back in Week 1, rookie tight end Jordan Reed had yet to emerge as a dangerous playmaker.

In addition to the threat posed by Reed, wide receiver Pierre Garcon has recovered from a slow start and is currently in dominant form.

With Reed and Garcon on the field, the Eagles will bring safeties up to the line to help corral Morris at their peril.

One area where Philadelphia could have a definite edge is special teams. The Redskins have endured major issues in this phase of the game in 2013, and Philly can unleash Jackson as a deadly returner.

That presents a challenge for coordinator Keith Burns, but his unit did a creditable job against prolific returners in Minnesota. Kicker Kai Forbath kept the ball away from rookie Cordarrelle Patterson on kickoffs, while Marcus Sherels was mostly contained on punt returns.

The return game is one area where Burns and Shanahan are looking for their own playmakers to emerge. The latest candidate is rookie Nick Williams, who has been added to the roster as Thompson's replacement, according to The Washington Post's Mike Jones.

He indicates that Williams will be given every chance to win the right to return kicks:

Williams is expected to compete primarily for playing time on special teams. The undrafted rookie out of Connecticut recorded seven catches for 51 yards and one punt return for 29 yards during the preseason.

The Redskins have struggled mightily in the return game, and Coach Mike Shanahan said on Friday that the team would continue to experiment with punt returners.

More production from the special teams would be great, but at this stage, most would settle for a unit that simply avoids a weekly rash of costly mistakes.

Every game has become huge for Washington after a disastrous start. The meeting with the Eagles feels as though it will define the season one way or another.

A defeat almost certainly ends any lingering hopes of an unlikely playoff push. But a win would give Shanahan's team a foothold in what remains a weak division still waiting for someone to claim it.


All statistics via NFL.com.